I am going to be publishing some reviews of Indie books on here as part of a series on the review exchanges I have be participating in on Goodreads. I hope to explain how this process has worked/ not worked for me, but before I do, I would like to share the matrix I have developed for this process.
Initially, when I did these reviews, I reviewed the books as I would any traditionally published book or book I review for Reader's Favorite (where I receive a small amount of compensation). I will point those out when posting them. However, as I went along, I realized that this is not really fair despite the fact that one of the leaders of the groups said as self-publishing authors we should be tougher on the books we review.
Traditional publishing companies have resources and marketing outlets unavailable to indie authors. For example, if a traditional publishing company wants reviews about how great their book is, they easily have the connections and staff to post hundreds of them – many from people who do not disclose they are paid or received the books for free. In addition, they can send out thousands of free books to targeted audiences for reviews.
Also, each traditional publishing company sends books first to a professional developmental editor - who fixes plot inconsistencies, chops inappropriate material, and fills in material that needs more explanation or different voice. Developmental editors can cost up to $12 per page and an indie author has no guarantee that he/she will do a good job. Then the traditionally published book goes to another editor who checks it for grammar and spelling - this can cost the indie author up to $6 and again, there is no guarantee the editor is any good. Grammarly is an acceptable substitute, but it will cost you $30.00 per month. (I think. I have a yearly subscription.) Then the book is formatted by a professional layout person and send to a proofreader who will check to ensure the formatting is uniform, and there are no more typos. I charge $1 per page to format (unless it is tricky), and I charge another $1 per page if you want me to reformat a photo/ image intensive book for Kindle. I am sure this is probably on the cheap side. Proofreading - true proofreading and not editing/ formatting/ proofreading that someone is trying to get done for the price of proofreading (which many editors will charge more for if the author tries to slip it through or had the previous jobs done by an incompetent person) - can cost up to $8 per page. Add this all together and a 200 page book can cost more than $5000 - just to edit professionally and the author may not even get it done well. (Don't worry, I am going to be talking about ways to lower your editing costs in future posts.) However, when you also add in cover design (generally $50 - $100), and illustrations (figure around $50 per image) and marketing costs if you hire someone ($1500 per month) - you either need to be rich and well connected to put out a professional book by yourself or you scrimp in places (I belong to the latter group).
Because of this unfair advantage that traditional publishers have, I have decided to use a different rating system on indie books that were given to me to review as a part of a review exchange. I do not want to write a glowing review, when I don't think the book deserves it, but I also want to take into account that indie authors have less resources than traditional publishers. Like my professionally reviewed books, these books will no longer be adjusted based on the rating systems where I am posting the reviews. To keep my star rating unbiased on books I receive for review exchanges, I have developed the following matrix which I am also referencing on my Goodreads profile page.
Editing: Poor = -1 Okay (few mistakes) = 0 Clean = +1
Plotline: Incoherent = -1 Some odd twists/ unexplained items = 0 Amazing = +1
Formatting/ images: Poor quality = 0 Okay, but with a few issues = +1 Looks good = +2
Liked: Disliked the story = 2 It was okay = 4 Loved the story = 5
Characters: Difficult to follow = 0 Easy to follow = +1
I add up score and divide by 2. To determine whether I will round up or down, I look at average of other ratings – if it is higher, I go up; if it is lower, I go down. If there are no ratings, I go up.